MONROE NATIVE IN CHARGE OF

MONROE-WALTON COUNTY LIBRARY

 

          Book-lovers and literary aficionado’s rejoice!  Our beautiful library is once again looked after by a Monroe native.

          On a recent trip to town I stopped in the library to ask a couple of questions and met the new manager, Blake Peters, and what an exciting conversation we had. Blake has not been at the helm of the library long but in a very short time he has made it a priority to know what books and categories are on the shelves and what is in each and every drawer as well as knowing everything in the Heritage Room which pertains to history and genealogy; the sign of a true bibliophile!

          Just from the conversations we exchanged it is easy to see the passion Blake has for any and all things literary; it radiates from him like words flying off a page and especially when he speaks about Shakespeare, Shelley and Keats, three of his favorite authors.

          “I grew up on the family farm in Gratis and have lived in Walton County most of my life. Most of my family attended the Walton County public schools all the way through high school. After high school I went to the University of Georgia where I graduated with an ABJ in Journalism from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.  I spent a short time after graduating in Destin, Florida working as a photographer and then moved back to Georgia where I taught at Georgia Perimeter College. When an offer came along from the Uncle Remus Regional Library System to manage the Monroe Library, how could I refuse?  I cannot tell you how much it means to look after the library I grew up in.”

         Blake’s enthusiasm for his job is certainly contagious.  I told him about how similar our lives were, how they were connected via the Monroe Library and how my Aunt Ruby Landers served in the position he had back in the 1950’s when it was in the old city hall location where I was first introduced to books, literature and the history of Monroe as captured in the back issues of the Walton Tribune.

          Standing in the Heritage Room looking at the portrait of the late Anita Butts Sams, who gave Walton County its true history while sharing our stories of growing up in the library, Blake continued: “I definitely spent a lot of time in the library growing up.  My mother and grandmother brought me here all the time and in a very real sense my love of reading was born in the library. I was taught to read from books checked out from here and every time we came to town I insisted we stop by the library.  I discovered favorite authors like Shakespeare, Shelley and Keats from the books I read here.  Many of the books I read growing up are still on shelves in the building; the first book of Shakespeare’s plays I checked out as a student at Carver Middle School is actually sitting on my desk right now!  This library really did change my life!  I am very interested in the history of this library and want to preserve as much of it as I can.”

Mentioning his interest in wanting to compile a history of the library for a true record of our literary heritage reminded me of a program on the library I gave to the Delphian Club in 2013.  My history of the library came from old issues of the Walton Tribune along with my memories of the library as a child along with stories and recollections from two friends, the late Mrs. Evelyn S. Martin, who was a chairman of the library board and the late Edward L. Almand, Jr., one of the organizing founders of the library.

          I am adding my notes to this column in hopes Blake can add to where I left off in bringing the story of the Monroe-Walton County Library current with the possibility of having copies of it available for patrons of the library.

          “History of the Monroe-Walton County Library: 1905-1990”

 

          “Homes with books are homes with culture,” says an old proverb.

          An example of this type of culture in Monroe in the early days goes back to when the “Book Lovers Club” was organized in a member’s living room in 1905.  “Library Rooms” were opened in various members home during good weather from 4:00 – 5:00 every Wednesday afternoon.

`       At the organizational meeting held in January, 1906, Mrs. Robert L. Nowell, Sr., was elected president of the group; Miss Claire Felker, vice-president, and Miss Josie Reed, secretary & treasurer.  Miss Lizzie Hammond and Miss Moina Michael served as librarians for the month.

          Concerned over the fact the new public school system had no library, the Book Lover’s Club was considering in late November transferring its collection to the Church Street School where it might continue serving its own small membership while at the same time forming a collection for the high school library.

          A favorite quote about book-lovers from that period by John Aiken goes: “The time to read is any time; no apparatus, no appointment of time or place is necessary.”

          Another early book circulating unit found a home on a shelf in an uptown store on the west side of Broad Street between Spring Street and West Highland Avenue.  Mrs. Edwin P. Nowell, Jr., was active in organizing and promoting this group in 1922, asking each member to provide a book for rotation.  Some of Monroe’s most prominent citizens were listed among the membership including, Mrs. Earl Aycock, Mrs. Lewis Barrett, Mrs. C. R. Bradford, Mrs. J.W. Butts, Mrs. Ed A. Caldwell, Mrs. W. H. Compton, Miss Mary Edwards, Mrs. George W. Felker, Mrs. Harry Launius, Mrs. Paul Launius, Mrs. Lena Felker Lewis, Mrs. Arthur Mobley, Mrs. Josiah Roy Nunnally, Harry Arnold, L. T. Mayfield and Sid Wheeler.

          James H. Billington, a book-lover born in 1929, wrote: “Libraries are starting places for the adventure of learning that can aid whatever one’s vocation and location in life. Reading is an adventure like that of discovery itself. Libraries are our base camp.”

March 31st of 1936 saw the beginning of Monroe’s first public library at the local high school with the school’s volumes forming the nucleus of the collection.  Miss Mary Nell Breedlove served as librarian with Miss Thelma Cates serving as the school librarian.

          When a massive fire destroyed this building including the accumulated book collection in December of 1936, J. Roy Nunnally offered up free space for a library in the Nunnally Building on the West side of Broad Street which met with enthusiastic approval and appreciation to this civic leader.

          The Monroe Women’s Club and other organizations joined forces and offered a small collection of titles made available to the citizens.  For a short time these books were circulated on an “honor system”, but so many volumes were lost or never returned that a borrower’s registry was put into use in 1937.

          October 25, 1938 marked a pivotal day for Monroe booklovers when a small group of interested citizens met in the second floor quarters of the Nunnally Building in an attempt to strengthen the fledgling library.  A small stove, heated with coal purchased by one of the individuals, took the chill from the room. There were less than two dozen books on the shelves, but this meeting began the reorganization of The Monroe Public Library, the forerunner to the Monroe-Walton County Library.

          Named to the first library board were: Mrs. W. O. Dean, Chairman; Edward L. Almand, Jr., Mrs. Thomas R. Aycock, Mrs. James A. Clarke and L. D. Haskew.

          A representative of the Works Progress Administration explained how aid could be obtained through the organization to supplement local funds and it was decided to keep this library separate from that of the school library.  Thanks to the help from the WPA, city and county funds and generous donations from citizens across town and the dedication of the elected officials, the library was able to extend its services on a county-wide basis.

          Serving as library board chairmen after Mrs. Dean up to 1968 were: Mrs. Thomas R. Aycock, Mrs. R. C. Martin, Mrs. R. L. Nowell, Jr., Mrs. Marvin Sorrells and Mrs. Jimmy Milhous.  Librarians who kept watch over the books and collections while serving the citizenry were: Miss Mary Chick, Mrs. Vera D. Moon, Mrs. B. R. Barrett, Miss Mae Wooten, Miss Ruby Landers, Mrs. J. C. Knox, Mrs. John S. Dickinson, Mrs. Robert Cousar and Mrs. Andy Watson.

          The late Ed Almand, Jr. was the sole surviving member of the original board, having served as treasurer for 34 years since the 1938 reorganizational meeting and later served as chairman of the board of trustees for the Piedmont Regional Library System for two years which later absorbed the Monroe Public Library.  After stepping down as chairman, he served as trustee for the library board for 23 years, one of the longest serving tenures of the organization.

          In 1939 when the new Monroe City Hall was built, two rooms were provided to house the library, which served the city adequately until August 25, 1958, when the Memorial Library on Bold Springs Avenue became available.  This library was built and given to the high school in 1946 by Mr. & Mrs. Harry B. Launius as a memorial to their son, Harry B. Launius, Jr., who lost his life in the war and to honor all students of Monroe High School who entered the armed services of our country during World War II, from 1941 to 1945.  A large bronze plaque hung in the entry hall of the library with the names of all the boys from Monroe who entered the war. The Launius Memorial Library served both the needs of the high school and the community.

          With the opening of the new high school building on Bryant Road in 1958, the school library moved into its new quarters leaving the Memorial Library as the perfect home for the public library.

          The Monroe-Walton County Library’s affiliation with the Piedmont Regional Library in 1954 increased its scope and services, providing rural areas of the state with books and services where none had been previously available.  Representatives on this library board from Monroe were: Ed Almand, Jr., Mrs. Annie B. Rockmore, Miss Mary Reed and John F. Hester.

          The State Board of Education granted permission for funds to be made available for the purchase of a bookmobile in 1955 which serviced the local schools and rural areas where books were scarce.  When the bookmobile visited the local schools, classes were halted so students could peruse the books in that old van, picking out titles of interest.

          Other members of the Monroe community serving on the board through the years were: Mrs. David Black, Mrs. W. H. Gleafke, Mrs. Glenn Pelham, Mrs. Tharpe Sanders, Mrs. J. T. Byrd, Mrs. Charles Henson, Jr., Mrs. Bill Murray, Mrs. Robert L. Sams, Mrs. E. T. Woodward, Mrs. R. L. Nowell, Jr., Mrs. Rice Green, Mrs. Bob Tankersley, Mrs. Albert Spence, Mrs. Bobby Breedlove and Mrs. Jack Smith.

          By 1968, the library’s shelves held 7,000 volumes and on November 6, 1972 the library moved into the newly renovated quarters of the old Monroe Post Office building, just steps away from its former location in city hall.

          Thanks to several large grants, a large red brick building was built on West Spring Street which now serves the citizens of Monroe for their book needs.  At the time of the occupancy the book count on the shelves was reaching towards 70,000 titles complete with shelves of current magazines.  Other amenities of this new building were meeting rooms, a children’s area and the “jewel” of the library was the “Heritage Room”, a secure environment which houses genealogical documents & papers, old issues of the Walton Tribune on microfilm, maps, documents and other papers providing historical and cultural content. Plaques from the old Monroe Public Library, the Launius Memorial Library and other historical markers adorn the brick walls, giving patrons a glimpse back in time to the library’s “younger days”.

          During the late eighties or early nineties, the Piedmont Regional Library was absorbed into the State of Georgia Public Library System and the Monroe-Walton County Library became a part of The Uncle Remus Regional Library System. This change brought about the advent of modern technology adding computers and books on discs while still adhering to the basic reason of a library, providing the Monroe community with good books.

          With Blake Peters overseeing the day to day operations and appreciating the heritage of an organization that has always been close to my heart, I know the Monroe-Walton County Library will be in good hands for many years to come, I hope.